Mar 8, 2007 3:25am
A Little More on Humour(Part 2)
There are all of the archtypes that the various personality theorists have given us in this century. In addition to Jung's introvert and extrovert, there is the artist, the suffering artist-soul within us all, Mishkin-Qalam. He survives in all his seriousness, as we might, with humour. There are the types who William James describes in his Varieties of Religious Experience: the personality constitutionally weighted on the side of cheer and its opposite, the somber, more reflective even melancholic type. The two carpenters, Ustad Baqir and Ustad Ahmad were examples of the former. The examples we find of the latter were often the result of the many difficulties these lovers of Baha'u'llah were subjected to and it wore them "to the bone."
‘Abdu’l-Baha addresses all of us, all of us on our journeys while He describes many of those He came to know in His life. For He is describing not only the lives of these men and women in the nineteenth century, He is describing us in our time. He is addressing us on our own travels. He addresses the restlessness in us all. He speaks to us in our victory and our loss. He speaks about what Michael Polanyi calls the tacit dimension, the silent root of human life, which is difficult to tap in biographies, the inner person. This private, this inner person, is the one whom He writes about for the most part. He sets this inner life in a rich contextualization, a socio-historical matrix. He describes many pilgrimages and you and I are left to construct our own. We all must shape and define our own life. Is it aesthetically pleasing? Intellectually provocative? Spiritually challenging? ‘Abdu’l-Baha shapes and defines these lives given the raw-data of their everydayness added up, added up over their lives as He saw them. How would He shape my life? Yours? How would we look in a contemporary anthology of existences with ‘Abdu’l-Baha as the choreographer and the history of our days as the mise en scene?
Some of the lives of the obscure, the ordinary and representative members of the Baha'i community are recovered for history and for much more. Their private aspirations and their world achivements, their public images and their private romances, their eventual successes and their thwarted attempts are lifted onto the pages of a type of Baha'i scripture. 'Abdu'l-Baha is setting the stage, the theatre, the home, in these pages, for all of humanity. The extrovert is here, the introvert, those that seem predisposed to cheerfulness and those who seem more melancholy by nature. All the human dichotomies are here, at least all that I have come across in my own journey. They are the characters which are part and parcel of life in all ages and centuries, all nations and states, past, present and, more importantly, future. Here is, as one writer put it, the rag-and-bone-shop, the lineaments of universal human life, the text and texture of community as we all experience it in the crucible of interaction.
Memorials of the Faithful is what might well be this age’s Canterbury Tales, that compendium of personalities who exemplify, as William Blake once put it, “the eternal principles that exist in all ages.” We get a Writer Who delights in other people but Who has an active and incisive mind, a practicality that He brings to bear on what are often difficult personalities. He dwells only on the essentials; His purpose is inveterate; His feelings sincere and intense; they never relax or grow vapid during His cursory analyses. He is exquisitely tender, but clearly wily and tough to survive in the burly-burly life of exile, prison and the unbelievable difficulties He had to bear along life’s tortuous path.
The heroic age was coming to a close when ‘Abdu’l-Baha put His pen to paper; and it was over by the time the Haifa Spiritual Assembly published this His final book. A remanant remained, Baha’u’llah’s sister, the Greatest Holy Leaf who died in 1932. ‘Abdu’l-Baha had played a prominent role in the epic that was the heroic age. He played a dominant role in writing that epic’s story. Memorials of the Faithful is an important part of that epic. This epic tradition was not essentially oral but quintessentially written: a written tradition par excellence. Since The Growth of Literature by the Chadwicks(1924-1926) the heroic epic has been seen in literature’s epic studies “as a cultural rather than a literary phenomenon.” The Baha’i epic has grown out of a complex and fascinating set of cultural conditions. Indeed ‘Abdu’l Baha’s work has contributed to the resolution of problems involving the relationship, the transition, between oral narrative and written text. But this relationship is a question to occupy epic enthusiasts and is not our principle concern here.
Within three to four months of completing this last of His books, ‘Abdu’l-Baha had begun His Tablets of the Divine Plan , the action station within which the community He was addressing could put into practice all the good advice He had given it in His Memorials of the Faithful. Like The Will and Testament, though, it may take a century or more to grasp the implications of this surprisingly subtle and, deceptively simple, book.
In the next two decades we shall see the end of the first century of the Formative Age. Perhaps the time has come to begin to seriously grasp the implications of these shining pages from ‘Abdu-l-Baha and His interpretive genius.
We do not know much about the circumstances of ‘Abdu’l-Baha’s writing, at least I don’t. Some writers we know, like Beethoven, are intensely physical people who seem to fight their thoughts onto the page, splattering the ink, breaking nibs, even ripping the paper in the process. Beethoven had none of the serene penmanship of a Bach or the hasty perfection of Mozart or the quasi-mathematical constructs of Webern. But we do know some things. We know, for example, that ‘Abdu’l-Baha often worked all night with a large part of the night devoted to prayer and meditation. It was then He did His writing; He was too busy to scribble down things in the daytime as some writers do. He had a short sleep after lunch. After writing one of the biographies he would often read or tell the story at one of the meetings in the next few days. Now, we can read them in a book or access them on the internet, in very readable English, in authorized translations. Gone is the Persian and Arabic in which He wrote; gone is ‘Abdu’l-Baha’s innimitable script or that of one of His secretaries. Having flashed onto the screen with the speed of light or into the book in some electronic form with every character proportional, every paragraph in alignment, these words, written six years before His passing, are now free to penetrate our own lives as the lives He wrote about penetrated His.
The material on Chaucer that follows was obtained from Derek Pearsall's The Life of Geoffrey Chaucer: A Critical Biography, Blackwell, Oxford, 1992, pp. chapter 6.
The whole organization of Chaucer's narrative is in the historical lattice-work of a world of ecclesiastical routines and needs. 'Abdu'l-Baha's narrative, played as it is in the lives of seventy-seven souls, exists in the interstices of lives transformed by a manifestation of God. Instead of the ubiquity of the Christian Faith and its practices we have a new religion emerging in the soil of people's lives. Both books give us a narrative of faith. Women are dominant in Chaucer and men in Memorials of the Faithful. Both books provide us with a spiritual journey. There is a gusto and carni- valesque spirit, a contempt for marriage and sexual urges, in Chaucer while none of this is to be found in 'Abdu'l-Baha's work.
There is no sense of social and moral commitment in Canterbury Tales. Chaucer's London is a turbulent and dangerous place; so too in 'Abdu'l-Baha'is world. He writes of the domestic world rather than the politics of power. Both men possess a remarkable acuteness of observation; there is little of the sense of outrage. Chaucer makes a magpie-like raid on scholarly texts, perhaps more from conversations. The pilgrims are infinitely various. The sense of dramatic vitality is so strong the temptation to read the tales as principally an expression of the characters of their tellers is strong. Chaucer is a self-concealing and evasive character. His audience in the imagination is "a miscellaneous company, of lettered London men, to be appropriately scandalized and delighted by the Wife of Bath and the fabliaux, flattered by the invitation to share in a gentleman scholar's easily carried burden of learning and intrigued by the novel expose of London low life in the Cook's Tale. The audience is, probably exclusively an audience of men.
The Canterbury Tales are Chaucer's maturer reflections upon the life of men and women in society and in the Christian faith written in the last decade of his life,1387-1400. He was almost entirely occupied with writing 'The Canterbury Tales' in this last decade. He refrained from direct allusion to public events and it is difficult, unsafe, to make any deductions about specific connections between his life, his works and the events of the time. Some scholars prefer to see his work as chaotic and inexplicable. The comparisons and contrasts with the work of 'Abdu'l-Baha make a fascinating study to those interested in both Chaucer and the Baha'i Faith. But even those who hold no particular interest in Chaucer can find the contrasts and comparisons valuable in helping them understand the work of this Central Figure of the Baha'i Faith writing as He was at the very beginning of the Lesser Peace and the new Age we are all entering in all its tragic swiftness, amazing perplexity and fascinating juxtapositions.
In my more than forty years pioneering and fifty involved as I have been in the Baha'i community, I find this seminal work of 'Abdu'l-Baha’s absolutely crucial in my attempt to understand and deal with the complexities and problems that arise in Baha'i community life. It is as if 'Abdu'l-Baha has given me the Baha'i community in microcosm. Although He wrote the book ninety years ago, it speaks to me about my life and so I pass the dialogue I have had with this book to you, dear reader….and a final word on Chaucer….
NO STRUGGLE TO INVENT
Chaucer had a simplicity and directness of style. He was able to step into a child’s mind and an adult’s; indeed, he could take on the life, the mood and the personality of anyone or anything he knew or could know. That is the basis of the vividness, the individuality of his characters. He pleads authenticity, faithfulness to actual life and speech. -Ron Price with thanks to Collier’s Encyclopedia and Encyclopedia Britannica.
Oh Father of English poetry-
the King’s English-when English
was finding its East Midland dialect
and first being used in Parliament,
some six hundred years ago1, whose
poetry was in the language of the man-
in-the-street, with simplicity, naturalness,
freshness and vitality—which we have
recently rediscovered in our time and
which I strive for in my poems and in
what I write of history and character in
my pioneering tale, pilgrimage-like across the
world, painting some realistic portraiture, with
no struggle to invent, only to suit my purpose.
1George H. McKnight, The Evolution of the English Language: From Chaucer to the Twentieth Century Dover Publications Inc., NY, 1968(1928), p. 18.—25/5/97.
INTRODUCTION TO SECTION IV OF MY AUTOBIOGRAPHY
It is fitting that the following short descriptions of my efforts at biography should be preceded by an analysis of ‘Abdu’l-Baha’s biographies. Twenty-five years ago now, in 1981, I took my first excursions into writing biography. Those excursions became part of, first, The History of the Baha’i Faith in Tasmania: 1924-80 and; second, The History of the Baha'i Faith in the Northern Territory: 1947-1997. The short biographies I wrote in the 1980s and 1990s are, for the most part, now in the archives of the Baha'i Council of Tasmania and the NT. Some of these short sketches of human personality are in a file I keep in my study, a file which has increased in size since it was first created in the early 1990s. Some of the sketches are on the internet at the site bahai-library.org. They have all become part of a larger work Pioneering Over Four Epochs: Section IV. But they will not be included here in this edition of my autobiography which I am posting on the internet since the people I have written about are, for the most part, still living.
In addition, the notes in this file on the subject of biography, which I began to collect thirteen years ago in 1993, have begun to assume a far greater extent, a wider ambit than was initially planned due to the plentiful resources on the subject of biography available on the Internet. Perhaps, in time, I may write more biographical material, hopefully material in greater depth of expression than I have done thusfar and hopefully from a more fertile base than I have been able to discover in my first attempts in the 1980s and the 1990s.
Whatever biographies I write, they will in time be part of Section IV of my larger work, Pioneering Over Four Epochs. This biography file has, as I say, developed into a more substantial resource in recent years and a brief examination of the table of contents will show the range of relevant sub-topics. This biographical interest provides some balance, although I must confess very little so far, to all the autobiographical material I have collected in other files and to any impression of my narcissistic tendencies which critics may be inclined to dwell upon. The material here I hope will prove useful in my efforts to write biographies in the years ahead as part of Section IV of my autobiographical work Pioneering Over Four Epochs. --3/3/06.
Beginning in 1993, after living in Perth for five years and after more than 30 years in the pioneering field, I began making notes on people I knew. For various reasons I found the experience unsatisfactory and, by 1997, I had discontinued the process. It was my second effort at writing biography, the first being a similar period of four years in Katherine. These latter notes are found in the several volumes of writing on 'The History of the Baha'i Faith in the N.T. and the Northwest of WA.:Vol.2 Part 1.' I also wrote a few short biographies in 2000 to 2002 when finalizing that same history.
After some 20 years of occasional efforts at writing biography, I had the experience Anthony Trollope and Henry James had with their efforts.1 They became disenchanted with the process. Limited to historical narrative they became bored even dismayed by the exercise. My essential problem was that I hardly knew any of the individuals well enough to chart their biographies. The exercise of delving into historical documents involving those who were dead or having extended conversations with individuals were were still living, I realized was beyond my interest, my enthusiasm and, perhaps, my ability. After the initial sketches I had drawn in the years 1981 to 2001 I simply ran out of details to extend my accounts.
-Ron Price with thanks to Ira Nadel, Biography: Fiction, Fact and Form, St. Martin’s Press, NY, 1984, pp. 137-8, 8/7/03.
BIOGRAPHY: A BRIEF ANALYSIS
In writing biography and autobiography one is confronted with a number of questions: what is its place in history? Is it simply a sort of sophisticated entertainment, a bedside companion better handed over to novelists? Is it a scholarly pursuit in itself? Is it a generator of cases to help us explain, in this case, aspects of the psychology, sociology or philosophy of religion? Is it a window through which we can learn to tackle existential questions in life, through which we can identify ourselves with others, come to understand ourselves emotionally and intellectually and help change and create ourselves?
The approach I take to both autobiography and biography is that these genres can help us reorient ourselves, our familiar ways of looking at things in unfamiliar terms, by the power of a certain strangeness. In this way we just may be able to become new human beings. There is, as Michael Polanyi emphasizes, a private, tacit passion at the root of much in life. It is a passion that is difficult to explore in an individual’s life, is tinged with the personal, keeps the world at a distance and can often be seen chiefly only in the written works of the person. The ‘real individual’, the unique self, the arguement goes, can only be seen in what he or she writes.
Other writers argue that it is of no help to the reader to understand the state of mind, the personal life, of the person concerned. Still others see the individual only in a socio-historical context, as the product of their times, as part of a sociological discourse or matrix, a rich contextualization, a historical situatedness. The historian, Wilhelm Dilthey saw it the other way around: individuals constructs their own society and, therefore, we all live in different societies.
The implications of the post-structuralist thinking and the deconstructionists is that the subject matter, the person, is a product of language, a product of the text, incarnated vocabularies. Any attempt at a unitary identity, at any definition of a self, is a simple error. The coherence of the person is a myth. In reality the self is a discontinuity, beyond documentation, essentially unknowable in its many variations, unrecoverable. The best thing to do is to avoid trying to construct a narrative line, a central focus.
Of course, this was not the view of Virginia Woolf who argued in her Collected Essays, Vol.4 that the age of biography had just begun. Woolf wrote this at the start of the Formative Age in Baha’i history aware as she was of the writings of Plutarch and Thucydides in previous ages. Woolf would have agreed with Nadel that “the recreation of a life in words is one of the most beautiful and difficult tasks a literary artist can perform.”1 Part of this beauty and part of this difficulty is the fact that these qualities are rooted in individual difference and idiosyncrasy, as A.L. Rowse emphasizes in his study of Matthew Arnold.2
Such are some of my thoughts on biography in these first years of my retirement. I have for the most part lost my interest in writing biography after 3 periods, 3 attempts in the last 20 years. –Ron Price with thanks to 1 Ira Nadel, op.cit., p.152 and 2A.L. Rowse, Matthew Arnold: Poet and Prophet, Thames and Hudson, London, 1976, p.160. –2002.
BAHA’I BIOGRAPHY: AFTER 15 YEARS OF THINKING ABOUT IT 1981-1996
Autobiography is the unrivalled vehicle for telling the truth about other people. -Oscar Wilde in The Oxford Book of Quotations, John Gross, OUP, 1983.
As he worked at the Decline and Fall, Gibbon became convinced that the true character of men was so complex and elusive that it could be only tentatively described....If even a contemporary could not unravel the complexities of character, what could a historian hope for?.....Gibbon became increasingly reticent about judging character and motivation. Gibbon presents history as preeminently a construction, a literary work with aesthetic rather than systematic order and coherence. -David P. Jordan, Gibbon and His Roman Empire, University of Illinois Press, Chicago, 1971, p.5.
Whoever turns biographer commits himself to lies, to concealment, to hypocrisy, to embellishments…..for biographical truth is not to be had and, even if one had it, one could not use it.”-Sigmund Freud in Freud: A Life For Our Time, Peter Gay, WW Norton & Co., NY, 1988, pp.xv-xvi.
This is an anthology of existences. Readers will find here lives of a few lines, of a few pages, more than a few pages on occasion. Readers will find adventures gathered together in a handful or several handfuls of words. There is such a contraction of things in the process of writing about these lives that one does not know whether the intensity which traverses them is due more to the vividness of the words or to the violence of the facts which jostle about in them. There is a series of singular lives here, created through I know not what accidents of life what strange poems. This is what I wanted to gather together and this is what I got in a sort of literary herbarium. -Werner Sollors, editor, Book’s Name Is Unknown, Oxford University Press, 1989, p.155.
THE BEST OF BOTH WORLDS
Canadians, like Australians, like to take the mickey out of pompous idiots. But they do it in a gentler way than Australians because Canadians are "nice." Canadians are also solemn. They are much more serious and solemn than the Australian for whom humour is a way of life. I like to think that, at fifty-four, with half my life spent in Australia, my personality now combines the best of the Canadian and the best of the Australian. That’s what I like to think.
Canadians treated their Indians and Eskimos very much the same way that Australians did their Aboriginees. In the last ten years Canadian writers have been mapping their territory and becoming popular in the process. It has only been in the last ten years that I, too, have begun to take writing seriously, although I am not yet popular. Indeed, I may never be 'popular.' That is not my aim, although I’ll take it if it comes my way and not complain. I am also a Canadian who is living in Australia. Canadians live between two forbidding giants: the USA and the frozen tundra. Australians live between the forbidding desert regions of the interior and vast oceans stretching in every direction. We have much in common. -Ron Price with thanks to Mordecai Richler on Books and Writing, ABC Radio, 25 April 1999, 7:40-8:15 pm.
I had a pretty solemn start,
as serious as can be,
as normal as it can be
for someone born,
raised on Canada’s shield,
the oldest rock in the world.
Then I moved to
where humour was, and is,
a way of life and I learned to laugh
and be the entertainer, the talker
and I talked with the best of them.
After twenty-seven years on one side
and twenty-seven years on the other,
I find myself sitting here
in my fifty-fifth year enjoying
Australia’s light and spicey air.
Canada’s solemnity sits there
like some gentle weight
balancing the brew, steadying the stew.
This mix I shall take to the grave
with whatever else life makes me save.
25 April 1999
SO YOU TALK OF IMAGES
Writers, poets and novelists, begin with a view, an image, of themselves, their countries and the world. Peter Carey, in 1981, saw Australia as a pet shop, with people living in cages, well-fed, thinking they were happy, but denying the nature of their prison. Carey saw Australia as a theme park filled with people who lived with a bleak sense of powerlessness and imprisonment. Randolph Stow, another Australian writer, saw Australia as a childish country filled with people disappointed in love and, consequently, full of hate. The poet, Les Murray, saw himself and his fellow Australians, as tapping and probing "the future/And the great past for legends, patterns, tales/In which to see, and move, and know our nature/And be complete." Price prefers to start at the global, the planetary level in his explication of images and views.-Ron Price with thanks to Anthony Hassall, Peter Carey’s Fiction: Dancing on Hot Macadam, University of Queensland Press, St. Lucia, 1994, pp.106-117.
And me, how do I see this great pad of land?
And that other land where I was born and raised?
And the rest of this my great maternal parent,
actually breathing, faintly sighing in her sleep,
ever so slowly winking and wimping in the
benign light of the sun while her muscle-like
clouds writhe in their own meteoric tempo
as veritable tissues of a living thing?
What music are you tuned to?
What unseen ferment stirs
your geostrophic consciousness?
What unimaginable tides of motivation
drive your evolution on, as yet,
unfathomed scales of time?
I thirst to quaff, to savor, to scrutinize
the entire sweep of life,
in full draught, undiluted, undoctored,
down to its deepest marrow
and tune in to its profoundest spiritual potentialities.
Fine threads, called rivers, braid themselves
and glisten among the slower-pulsing mountain chains,
their meandering loops grinding gracefully
downstream at so many miles a millennium,
never letting their channels stay comfortable
long enough to doze.
And finer threads, no, flames, called people,
like candles go out, a puff of wind, an ounce of poison,
a bullet, a relief from tension, even the tension
of organic molecules tied together too long.
The candle is out, unlighted;
the symmetry is complete,
the waxing and waning of a single curve,
all much the same age:
infinity minus x equals infinity: ¥ -x = ¥ 1
12 January 1999
1 Guy Murchie, The Seven Mysteries of Life: An Exploration of Science and Philosophy, Houghton and Mifflin, Boston, 1978, p.530.
A SERIOUS GAME
To be a Canadian, who has lived half his life in Australia, is to be conscious of a particular variety of mind-set, a mind-set characterized by psychological failure, by victimization, by a certain fracturing of personality, by nostalgia, by exploration of the past to confront and understand the present, by an affirmation of selfhood and power, by a magic power to cure, to comfort, to enhance life, to transform, if one is an artist.
Such a person, divided as his life has been between these two countries, is inhabited by a world of images: silence, emptiness, dreariness, desolation, a vast immensity with a touch of melancholy, much solitude and with a canopy of stars that touch him with their magic and fill him with a quiet delight; a white frozen heart, snow, wind, feelings of threat; a desert-bush with a red firey heart; and yet another world of city images: endless streets, lights, cars, industrial and manufacturing sites. The search, within these interacting and contrasting images, is and has been for spiritual adjustment and identity, for a voice, a language to proclaim and express my identity. -Ron Price with thanks to Margaret Atwood, Women Writers: Margaret Atwood, Barbara Hill Rigney, Barnes and Noble Books, Totowa, NJ, 1987, pp. 1-10.
There’s a humour and a seriousness
which play with each other to lighten,
make gentle, the tragedy
and with this new religion
there’s been a wealth, a language,
an ethos, which has made for friendliness,
openness, receptivity, an adventurousness
and, after these several decades
of seemingly endless chatter,
an immense weariness
about talking to anyone at all.
For, let there be no mistake,
this has been a serious game, a war,
with its losses and victories
and these contrasting images, this humour
and seriousness will fill, now, a mind-set
and fertilize this new magic power
to transform these hours in middle years,
this dust, this substance of my days,
to fruits of holiness on trees of wondrous glory1
in gardens of unfading splendour
where I walk and refresh my spirit.
13 February 1999
1 Baha’u’llah, Hidden Words. There is an immense loftiness and majesty to so much of Baha’u’llah’s imagery that I think it often leaves the palate satiated. I found in my early years as a Baha’i I would come to the table of His words without the ability to ‘get a good feed’. Poetry has helped me utilize Baha’u’llah’s Writings. It has been a means of deepening my own understanding and a means of feeding on His words from a fresh perspective, to help overcome sameness.
MANY TYPES OF INVOLVEMENT
Price liked to think his poetry was contributing toward a growing Baha’i consciousness in world literature, a growing literary identity in the Baha’i community and its religious, cultural and intellectual tradition. There were, and are, unquestionably in this tradition incredible, haunting images of martyrdom and oppression, what the Canadian novelist and critic Margaret Atwood would call, images of victimization. But these images were, and are, largely dynamic, illustrating the nature of the bonds, the glue, the distinctive qualities of community that only manifest themselves in times of crisis.
The central idea generated in American literature is the sense of adventure and excitement on the frontier and those who made it. In Canadian literature the central image is about making it back from the frontier, surviving the aweful experience. Survival is the triumph, the gratitude. This is also true in Australia, but with more than a tincture of humour and less of the Canadian seriousness. In the Baha’i community, with its essentially international geography, where its international identity is as important as, or more important than, its local existence, the central idea is neither frontier, nor survival, but unity. Cohesiveness in diversity is the watchword, the catchphrase for Baha’i identity.-Ron Price with thanks to Margaret Atwood in Women Writers: Margaret Atwood, Barbara Hill Rigney, Barnes and Noble Books, Totowa, NJ, 1987, p.223.
The act of writing is my commitment,
or part of it, my inescapable, intense, connection.
This language my ultimate affirmation
of my own revolution:
word after word, after word.
I tell, therefore I am.
I tell from my world of mirrors,
mirrors which define the I, the I am,
where involvement has burnt my edges,
given me a type of burn out
where even staying by myself most of the time1
is a type of involvement,
a part of an inclusive community
where belief, conscious knowledge
and the practice of good deeds
can take many forms in this universal brotherhood.
13 February 1999
1 Mirza Muhammad Quli in Memorials of the Faithful, ‘Abdu’l-Baha, p.71.
9 September 1995
* Brad Groch, City Poet: The Life and Times of Frank O’Hara, A.A. Knopf, NY, 1993, p.438.
THE OUTER SUBURBS
We might be told to ignore our dreams
and discount the rainbow.
A cold, winking star, nameless and infinitely remote,
might be given us as sole comfort,
or a dull black stone.
-Roger White, "Question", Occasions of Grace, George Ronald, 1992, p.61.
The answer is not that it is difficult
not that there are hazards abounding,
but that an empty, bland, yawning gulf
drifts and we call it liberation:
the great gap between an old authority
and a creative substitute;
how to make use of our new freedom-
bright-coloured patches and grey-
black patterns in symbiosis.
A cavernous abyss, tall precipice,
yawns before us as we sleep,
as we try to find the canvass
on which to paint the picture-
from drift to mastery-with our lives.*
Patterns of feeling and meaning
can only fill some of the infinitely cold spaces
from here to eternity, distant stars,
nameless planets and the miles and miles
between us along roads that I keep travelling
and will never do again.
Perhaps this emptiness is for the heart
where inner mysteries unfold and
love and hate must not take root.
Perhaps it is in these cold and barren
places that truth unwinds and error is defined.
Perhaps here it is that the lamp of search,
earnest striving, devotion, rapture and ecstacy,
find their home, their roots, their spacious dwellings,
in these cold, clinical and distant planes
where the City of God finds its outer suburbs;
where the heart begins its slow, infinitely slow
journey to the brighter lights of some downtown;
where there is satisfaction
that fattens and appeases the hunger;
where the fragrant trees and flowers,
the familiar friends and sublime embers
warm me by the fire; where You lay waiting
with love, more than I have known.
10 September 1995
STILL THE RIVER FLOWS
Thy memory be as a dwelling-place
For all sweet sounds and harmonies; oh! Then,
If solitude, or fear, or pain, or grief,
Should be thy portion, with what healing thoughts
Of tender joy wilt thou remember me,
And these my exhortations!
-William Wordsworth, Tintern Abbey, lines 141-146.
I cannot paint what then I was
in all its plain details, but I can grasp
some scent of time and what has since prevailed.
When I think of all those years and
all that has flowed by, ‘tis like an endless murmer,
nearly silent, falling, from a height, a river trail.
There is a charm, remote it comes
quite distant back in time, fed by thought,
some aching joys, some mourning,
an abundant recompense and gifts
come descending through her secret springs.
Sometimes in quiet rooms when all alone I sat,
in a dozen towns and cities where I slept
to prepare for yet another day,
sensations sweet swept from the past
and dwelt along the spine,
entered brain and through the vein
providing tranquil restoration in
a language, voices and pleasures shot
like lights from lover’s eyes and I saw
what once I was before ecstacies matured
and pleasures sobered in memory’s
mountain, valley and plain whose spaces
have allowed my heart to cool, my mind to feed
endlessly in quiet places that come back to me
alone in my room, old now, and
still the river flows.
2 July 1995
JOY AND PITILESS RAVENS
From Nature and her overflowing soul
He had received so much that all his thoughts
Were steeped in feeling....in all things
He saw one life, and felt that it was joy.
One song they sang, and it was audible,
Most audible then when the fleshy ear
...slept undisturbed. -William Wordsworth, Pedlar, lines 204-222.
..While I see that there is nothing wrong in what one does, I see there is something wrong in what one becomes. It is well to have learned that. -Oscar Wilde
Looking inward as You asked
I see something of what I am
defined in memory, in some
original impression of delight
or sorrow, or simply nostalgia’s
warm bank of images, a quality
of excitation, a pulse of sentiment
that beats within in all shades and
colours controlled at whim or simply
drifts across my screen from unknown
places in my brain. And I see, too,
through perception’s mirror judgements
made both good and bad and to-be-made
by an ebbing and a flowing mind reminding
me what I have done and might yet do
and hence the possibilities of what I am
and might become: so beautiful, so bright,
so reverent in mystery which cannot die,
and which can be felt so close, so near,
a greatness still revolving, infinite...
but also defiled can be, in infernal fire,
thornlike fetters, imprisoned in the talons
of owls with pitiless ravens lieing in wait.
3 July 1995
These apocalyptic elegies are indeed not conventional expressions of consolation but triumphant outbursts directed...to the dead and Emily Dickinson’s own anguish...an anguish distilled...into triumph.1 Here, in this poem below, is my own triumphant outburst with my usual cautionary note derived from Baha'i theology regarding our final moments. -Ron Price with thanks to 1Benjamin Lease, Emily Dickinson’s Readings of Men and Books: Sacred Soundings, MacMillan, London, 1990, p.xvii.
All across the world they lie
behind grey stone
and obscurest graveyards
in places noone’s heard
on the edge of town.
Yes, heaven’s humble handful
among simple stones
Hardly heroes, hardly known:
servants, gentlemen, ladies,
every conceiveable type,
they're all here behind stone.
Words carved by unknown hands:
Pioneer Canada Nine Year Plan.
He’d planned his. Knew who he was.
Identity grew into stone
that would last a thousand years.
He was going to end this one befittingly;
I mean it was his life, himself,
his mirror of some eternal hyacinth
growing forever in a garden
of eternal splendour, forged,
cut diamond-edged, glittering whiteness
on that snow-white path so close,
touching that Crimson Pillar
and trustworthiness’s pillar of light.
He would, at least, feel it.
28 October 1995
Among those who visited...some were recalled to life...But others, in truth, have simply passed through; they have only taken a tour. -’Abdu’l-Baha
Not on the ocean, on a semi-circular bay,
always impressed me as a rather grotty place
in pictures except for those places on the hill.
Just another noisy, dirty city as far as I could see,
except, as I say, for that garden up on Carmel.
Recently, they’ve been building, building,
excavating, ornamenting, terracing, planting,
putting in more of that Pentelicon marble:
I tell you they’re transforming this old place,
giving it a future--Herzl’s ‘city of the future.’
I’ve never been here, as it would appear;
never touched down at Ben Gurion,
nor moved through the humid summer air.
I’d could be one of those tourists that the
Haifa Tourism Board is so keen on.
This journey has taken longer than I had planned
when I began to think about this place back in,
what, 1955? That’s as long as Moses took to
get to the promised land. Fitting really: the
whole thing tastes of new beginnings.
27 December 1995
THE EARLY BUDS ARE OUT
If this unearthly Love has power to make
my life immortal and to shake ambition
into some fitting portal where I brim
my measure of contentment and with merest whim
search, poorly, after fame, then ‘tis a Love
that I shall keep ‘til the call from above-
-With thanks to John Keats, Endymion, lines 843-47.
These things of beauty will be joys forever
and their loveliness will increase far down
the centuries and ages. Eras will not see these
wonders pass into nothingness. Dreams and
quiet places sweet and still will fill these
marbled-flower gardens binding us to
primal points of holy seat made for our searching.
Such beauty moves us far beyond incipient sadness;
takes this young sprouting freshness canalized
in energy-lamps everywhere in the vineyard.
Such grandeur cools in the hot season and
sprinkles our air with musk-rose blooms,
strengthening our loins in submissive worship.
And such wonder, too, for and with the dead
who have entered the garden of happiness
and now circle ‘round us in mystic intercourse.
It is all so dear, now, all that circles here;
even the moon which haunts then cheers as light
and seems to bind our very souls clear and tight.
This place, I prefer it have no name, its music
brings a joy to valley, mountain, plain.
The early buds are out now, milk in pails
is coming down the lane while lush juicy
fruits are being brought in by sail
in little boats-I’ve got one-I steer
in many quiet hours down deeper streams
where I hear bees hum in globes of clover.
Autumn brings its universal tinge of sober gold
to this world on mountain side wherein I hold
such thought that can only be described as bliss.
The trumpets have already blown and, now, my path
is dressed in green, in flowers, indeed a marble bath.
Those assembled ‘round the shrines had looks of veneration,
‘twould be here for many years to come, each generation
would have its awed face, companions in a mountain chase.
I therefore reveal unto thee sacred and resplendent tokens
from the planes of glory to attract thee into the court of
holiness and nearness and beauty, and draw thee to a station...
And I had been drawn into gardens of such fruit, such orient lights.
For here is the heavenly abode in the Centre of earthly realities
and here I am, as if led by some midnight spirit nurse of
happy changes toward some magic sleep, toward some
soaring bird easing upward over the troubled sea of man.
The words found here sound a strange minstrelsy, have
tumbling waves in echoing caves: a silvery enchantment
is to be found in this mazy world with its new song,
its upfurled wings which renovate our lives. Try them!
You may open your eyelids with a healthier brain.
Some influence rare goes spiritual through this Damsel’s hand;
it runs quick, invisible strings all over the land.
26 May 1995
Here are the early stages of a civilization that will create and experience beauty, that will rise above the cacophony in which the world now seems to be drowning. As TS Eliot looks back to the Greeks, the Renaissance, the creative peaks of the past, Price looks ahead with a vision implicit in the architectural configurations on Mt Carmel. -In appreciation to Alan Shucard, Fred Moramarco and William Sullivan, Modern American Poetry, G.K. Hall and Co., Boston, 1989, p.101.
Perhaps ‘the modern’ could go back to
Duchamp’s Nude Descending a Staircase(1912)
the symbol of the international exhibit of art
in New York, the root of the manifestation
of ‘the modern’ in America(1913)
and ‘Abdu’l-Baha’s 239 days in the West.
The big guns had come and changed the world:
Darwin, Marx, Freud, Einstein and
the broidered Robe of Light hearing
the wondrous accent of the Voice
that cometh from the Inaccessible
to our urban, industrial, democratic,
fragmented, scientific jungle of
motion, speed, urbanity, machinery
and human beings.
Here was the nest of the modern in poetry,
where intellectual and emotional complexes
were presented in an instant in time:
containers for ideas and feelings,
poetic sensuousness, hard and clear,
a firey intensity, prose poems, awakening,
some Hellenic turning,
some nature turning,
some turning, twisting, revolving,
evolving trying to describe our world:
bewildered, agonized, helpless, invaded
by some wind into the remotest and fairest
places and wasting as it germinated.
Poetry created aesthetic objects
out of words, reassembling language,
detached and leading anywhere, everywhere:
hymns to possibility, not just gibberish,
idiosyncratic flux, slangy informality,
surprising peculiarity of things.
Eliot advised writers to develop an historical sense,
the entire western intellectual tradition,
my relation to the dead and the unborn:
to escape from the subjective into system, order.
And so I did TS, so I did, a system just being born
back then: 1912, 1919, 1922--goodness, you were
right there, then, at the start with J. Alfred Prufrock:
Let us go then, you and I
When the evening is spread out against the sky
Like a patient etherised upon a table;
Let us go..(*).
That meaninglessness was being replaced,
paralysis, confusion, social falsity, anxiety
and we see the mermaids singing each to each.
...I have seen them riding seaward on the waves
Combing the white hair of the waves blown back
When the wind blows the water white and black.
We have lingered in the chambers of the sea
By sea-girls wreathed with seaweed red and brown
Till human voices wake us and we drown.(*)
And we drown, dreaming figures, as in a dance.
Silently adoring, embalmed in awe
and pentilekon marble, released to marvel
the magic Dust that noone ever sees.
23 June 1995
(*) TS Eliot, "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock", in TS Eliot: Selected Poems, Faber and Faber, London, 1954, pp.11-16.
WINDING UP THE CLOCK
You said a few words to a neighbour or an acquaintance, but it was merely for the sake of making a sound of some sort. Just a sound. There was nothing really to be said. The vast continent was really void of speech....Richard found he never wanted to talk to anybody, never wanted to be with anybody....And the rest of the people either were the same, or they herded together in a promiscuous fashion. But this speechless, aimless solitariness was in the air. It was natural to the country. The people left you alone. ...The profound Australian indifference...The disintegration of the social...Rudimentary individuals with no desire of communication....it felt like a clock that was running down. -D.H. Lawrence, Kangaroo, Angus and Robertson, 1982(1923), pp.386-387.
So much of the land was unapproachable;
even the cities had an unreality about them,
as if they were sprinkled onto a darkness into
which it never penetrated. In places the endless
grey-green iron foliage; in other places the empty
bush and all of it waiting, always waiting with a
presence, a wonderful presence, a spirituality.
Now, D.H. Lawrence, the car takes me around
when I want to go, which is not often any more,
except to the beach: sand, wind, sea and sun, or
to a meeting or anywhere that necessity or desire
requires. I can feel that spirituality here, a presence,
while lots of people have no desire to communicate,
just to make sounds with nothing really said.
Now, D.H., there is an endless chatter, on and on
and , if I let it, I could drown in words, words, words.
It’s much more complex now with half the population
migrated here or descended from migrants. Rarely, do
I want to talk to somebody, but others want to talk to me
and in this there is more than an adequate sufficiency.
Now, D.H., the great mass leave you alone, but there is
a determined core who get through to my solitariness
with their needs, their gregariousness, their love, their
kindness and their endless ability to talk, it seems, forever.
I could not be a hermit here; getting the balance right
has become an art that I take a certain pride in maintaining.
Now D.H., that profound indifference, that lack of caring
is still here, but lots of good people have lots of convictions,
too many of them; many of the worst are full of passionate
intensity; a tiresome and exhausting anarchy is loosed upon
the land, but much of which is subtle, complex and utterly confusing.
We seem to accept the absense of a centre not knowing what it means.
Now D.H., the inner life is awakening and the sense
of the tragic is finally finding a voice beneath a brain
full of laughs, for this is a country of laughs,
and that holding back is starting to move up
and tell of an inner life that no one knew, gentle,
soft, tentative, searching, often inarticulate and scared,
but started on the journey that is winding up that clock.
29 January 1996